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Kirkland boat owners, lakefront residents speak out on proposed noise ordinance
Patrolling Lake Washington is a big job - 33.8 square miles big.
On any given day, the King County Sheriff’s Marine Patrol has just one boat on the lake. The department has the ability to deploy up to five boats but that is reserved for special events such as the Fourth of July. The Mercer Island Police Department’s Marine Patrol and the Coast Guard pitch in for events such as Seafair. But it all costs money.
“We have resources to address the problems,” said King County Sheriff Sgt. Jim Kanauss. “We only do one boat most days to help the budget.”
But the priority for the sheriff’s department is safety.
A recent meeting at Kirkland City Hall between the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO), Kirkland police, Kirkland city staff, residents and boat owners, was aimed at coming to a compromise on the noise pollution of which some Kirkland residents have grown tired.
Doyne Alward, who participated in the meeting, is steadfast in her desire for a noise ordinance.
As a Juanita Bay Park ranger volunteer, she often gives tours of the bay to families and children.
“I have to talk over the boats to talk to people,” said Alward, noting the noise disrupts her volunteer work and the wildlife.
Alward was one of about 50 Kirkland residents and boaters who participated in the meeting.
Kirkland resident Steve Diederichs said, “Anything that drives you inside your house,” was too loud. Many people agreed with his response.
“It’s a big conversation to have,” said City of Kirkland Communications Program Manager Marie Stake, who led the meeting.
The crowd split up into four separate manageable groups. Each had a moderator from the city’s staff and discussed the issues and what can be done to manage the noise through a city ordinance. City staff listened to the discussion in order to craft a new aquatic noise ordinance. The city council will receive update on May 15 and a draft ordinance is tentatively scheduled for June 5.
Most agreed that loud music from the boats was the biggest concern. As it currently stands, the only noise ordinance for Lake Washington is at the state level and concerns decibel levels of boat engines. Many residents proposed a speed and time-of-day limit in Juanita Bay to curb the engine noise, extending out the wake zone and putting up signage in the bay.
One of the reasons for a speed limit is that actually measuring decibels on the water is difficult, according to Chris Bedker, KCSO deputy.
“Twenty-one- to 35-foot boats are typically the loudest,” said Bedker. “You really won’t see anyone (measuring decibels) because of how much time and training it takes.”
Sheriff’s deputies will typically give out tickets for unmuffled boats.
“There is a state ordinance but it is not practical,” said Bedker. “A muffler is a physical thing.”
Bedker said that KCSO writes about 300-350 tickets on the water a year.
“Between Lake Washington and Sammamish the majority are in Kirkland,” said Bedker. “We do most of our work in your city. That is why we are eager to be here.”
The current boating regulations for Lake Washington were enacted in 1960 - the last year of Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency.
“Boating technology has certainly changed since then,” said Kirkland Police Capt. Bill Hamilton.
Kirkland resident Glenn Peterson, who lives on Moss Bay and hears the noise firsthand, suggested the city implement a noise ordinance in general for all areas by Lake Washington. He also said the lake needs more police presence to deter noise.
“My personal problem is Moss Bay, summer days, dark nights,” he said.
In addition, he said neighboring jurisdictions should work together to come up with consistent regulations.
“Union Bay solved their problem by prohibiting water skis,” said Peterson. “Now they all come to Lake Washington. I wish they would let more activity go on over there again so they wouldn’t all come to us.”
But some think the current ordinance is enough.
“In general I’m against all regulations,” said Martin Namazi, whose family owns a boat that is moored on Lake Washington.
In his opinion there is no need to change them now.
“We are looking for a solution so we can be more responsive,” said Hamilton. “But we have no desire to be the fun police.”
But there are no laws on the books for loud music or voices on the water.
“The music is far and away more intrusive than the voices,” said kayaker Terry Durfee.
One Kirkland resident suggested posting a beacon at Juanita Beach with a light at the top connected to a decibel meter. The light would go on when the boats were too loud and alert the marine patrol. Another suggestion was to utilize volunteers to monitor the sound and alert police when it gets too loud. Kirkland police have used citizen volunteers in other capacities.
Although they do not have a patrol boat, the Kirkland Police Department has jurisdiction out to the middle of the lake. They currently contract out to KCSO for patrols.
Hamilton said that most of the increased concerns for noise and safety is centered around the only secluded inlet on Lake Washington - Juanita Bay.
The Sheriff’s Marine Patrol is based at Carillon Point. Many law enforcement personnel in attendance said that it is difficult to enforce decibel levels on the water as sound travels differently than on land.
The laws around the lake and even around the state differ as much as the communities they serve. And while Kirkland has no aquatic noise ordinance, boaters have a 50 foot noise ordinance in Seattle. One resident pointed out that 50 feet can be the length of a boat.
“Every community is different and they are all over the place on this,” said Hamilton.
Another issue is how long it takes for sheriff boats to travel on the lake. The 22 mile distance from end-to-end takes patrol boats 30 minutes to respond, 20 minutes for an emergency such as a fire.
“You show up in the marine boat and they all stop,” said Diederichs. “You disappear and oh my gosh it is Christmas time.”
But another issue has been residents who were reluctant to call 911 for excessive noise.
“Some people were not calling 911 to see how bad it would get,” said Kanauss. “We can’t do anything if no one calls us.”
The conversation began a month ago when the Kirkland City Council took up a proposal to curb noise and “rafting” issues, primarily on Juanita Bay. The city will only attempt to deal with the noise issue this summer.